I’ve begun indoor cycling, joining digital spinning classes from home. Which has made me think about competition. My relationship to the leaderboard is complicated. I simultaneously don’t care about “winning” and feel badly that I’m not “winning”.

Meanwhile, we are listening to the NFL playoff games while doing crafty things on the weekends. My feelings about sportsball (as my techsnob friends call it) are complicated too.

American Football (so called because football is soccer in the rest of the world) destroys the players’ body while pursuing wins. This seems exploitative to me, at best. Gymnasts suffer the same fate. I don’t think competing is valuable enough to pay that price. Winning at sports makes me happy when my body is equally happy about playing.

Despite my critical detachment, when I watch, I get caught up in the emotional drama of fandom. When “my team” wins (my team is The Patriots, don’t judge!), I act like I’ve personally accomplished something … besides making chicken wings and yelling at the television. I mentally sort other fans into categories. Jets and Steelers fans are probably violent felons. Seahawks and Packers fans are kind people. Buffalo fans attend support groups with Mets fans. I am not immune.

Worklife is ramping up, as it does in January, and I’m feeling professionally shy about competing. Which is problematic because as a business owner, competing is necessary. My cohorts and I are recreating our website to better demonstrate how we can help potential clients. I feel stuck. Positioning my team in a certain market enters us in a race for marketshare. I’m uncomfortable doing that because I don’t want to race, there’s enough work to go around. At the same time, of course, we do have an area of specialization and we are very good at what we do. I want to “win” opportunities to do more awesome things. And, of course, to ensure that we have revenue to pay our mortgages.

Book magic, the arriving of a book at the exact moment I need to read it, brought me The Power of Full Engagement last week. The authors’ experience demonstrates that extrinsic motivations (besting the competition) might make us stand out temporarily … but intrinsic motivations (living our values) makes us shine. I want to shine. I don’t want to set myself on fire doing it, as I’ve done in the past. Competing can be a constant chasing of fleeting experiences. We win; we start again. The pursuit is more exhausting than exhilarating, longterm.

I reject some of the common thinking about competition and “competitive” mindsets. For example, I’m never interested in diminishing or subjugating or humiliating anyone else. Even if they are an a$$h0l3. (Okay, I have my moments, but generally speaking.) If that approach is what it takes to “win” – I’m happy being a loser.

In the United States, many people believe, based on their voting, that this type of “competitive” approach is strength and necessary and good. As if it takes courage to shame tweet. Cheating, even treason, is acceptable if it means you win against your “enemies”.

In some arenas, perhaps this approach is necessary. Those arenas aren’t really competitions. They are narcissism played out on the world stage. A show. And they never, ever end well for anyone in the long run.

I don’t enjoy most forms of competition yet I am definitely competitive. Which is confusing. I have little faith in hierarchy yet play leadership roles. I love being selected for speaking engagements or new professional opportunities. I use those opportunities to create opportunities for others. I am a WE person. My mantra is “when the team succeeds, the team succeeds. When the team fails, I fail.” Yet I love, as much as anyone, my moments of being the star.

Everybody, all together, from the beginning is a tenant of my work. But the goal is not to be normal. I work very hard with teams to ensure they can absolutely, positively kick ass. My passion for this is lifelong. At ten, I was drum major of a Drum and Bugle Corp. The first time I saw a competition, I was hooked. Drum corps was the perfect balance of integrative leadership and personal excellence. Striving for excellence alone matters; striving for excellence together matters more.

Competitions I wouldn’t want to win:

  • Popularity contests
  • Beauty pageants
  • Anything shown on reality tv (which is hardly reality)

Competitive prizes I would want to win:

  • Nobel
  • Tony
  • Pulitzer

Do I want to win a cycling race? Not really. Which doesn’t stop me from trying and crying. What’s that about?

Here’s my Gold Medal ideal: My ideas and recommendations win influence when my thinking is strategically sound. (I hate losing to an unsound idea.) I cross the finish line when I create strategically sound experiences, at home and in my work.

When I share insights that are meaningful and valuable to others, I win attention and trust. I train for those Olympics. Yet, I feel shy about saying so.

How is competition related to enough? I think the key is knowing when you are competing because you feel like “less” and when you are striving for your own brand of excellence. To each her own. Our light does not diminish others. We can shine and compete for the space to sparkle. We don’t need, meanwhile, to engage in competitions that don’t have meaning (for us). We can, in those cases, be the cheerleaders for others.

Go cycling companions! Go Titans, who beat the Patriots in the playoffs.

Go, all ye who want to avoid cleaning up after narcissism wins … and vote.